SVU Episode #8: Penetration

Summary: This was an interesting exploration of what would happen if an undercover FBI agent became a rape victim. Marcia Gay Harden was convincing as the FBI agent who came home from work to find a strange man in her apartment. The man choked her, injected her with a paralytic drug, and raped her. But Marcia didn’t want to report the crime. She was wrapping up an undercover operation into tax protesters and feared she’d be pulled off her own case. So she performed a rape kit on herself and brought it to her friend, Det. Olivia Benson, to process confidentially. Olivia told her partner Elliot (of course), and they began investigating. In the dark, the SVU detectives interfered with the FBI tax protester investigation, causing the whole thing to blow up (literally). Marcia was furious and wanted to abandon the rape case – until the rapist attacked and killed another woman, using the same MO. Olivia persuaded Marcia to cooperate and press charges. They soon discovered this wasn’t a random attack. Years ago, Marcia sent a white supremacist to jail and killed his son in a shootout. The white supremacist paid the assailant to rape Marcia to exact vengeance.

Verdict: A-

What they got right: This was about how women react to being raped. Here, the woman who was raped was law enforcement. But like many women who are sexually assaulted, whatever their profession, she felt powerless. In fact, she was literally powerless, injected with a paralytic drug. We watched how she overcame that feeling of powerlessness. First, she performed her own rape kit, taking control of the investigation. Then, she went vigilante and tried to kill the guy herself. Then she refused to testify against her rapist – an act which was another way of asserting her power – the power to choose. Finally, she found the courage to testify against him, although she understood very well how hard the experience would be. And when she ultimately faced the man set the whole thing up, she told him, “I’m gonna get past this. You’ll be stuck here in prison. But I will go home to my loving husband and watch my children grow up. I will live my life.” She restored her sense of well-being, purpose, and power in the world. She will take back her own life and live it. It was a powerful and redemptive message.

What they got wrong. I had some nits, of course. At the beginning, Marcia said that the rapist only penetrated her vaginally, but at trial, she said she was orally assaulted. In real life, this major discrepancy in the victim’s statement would be considered Brady material, and the prosecution would have to turn it over to the defense as potentially exculpatory.  The defense would likely make it a big part of their defense.  Here, no one even seemed to notice it. As a prosecutor, I started mentally drafting the Brady letter as soon as Marcia starting changing up her story.  Maybe the ADA did it off-screen.

*All the views expressed her are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.


  1. mike says

    I liked this episode and appreciate your insight. The tax-protesters stuff was pretty random, but I am interested in the writers’ exploration of how a rape victim who was herself in law enforcement would feel and react. This was my favorite episode this season so far.

  2. says

    I agree – definitely the best one so far this season, I think. But Marcia is also a particularly adept actor, which significantly increased the quality of this episode (as did the excellent points you make, Allison).

    Sometimes, if you ‘watch’ a TV episode by just listening, and not watching,the show, you can hear how bad the acting is without being distracted by the attractiveness of the actors, the quality of the production, etc. Some of those USA “characters welcome’ shows are a case in point…!

    • Allison Leotta says

      You may not be surprised to learn that I’ve never dealt with a do-it-yourself rape kit. It’s plausible (the relevant procedure here would involve swabbing Q-tips in the appropriate places), but not something that happens much in real life. But, I think chain-of-custody would be okay, assuming the victim was cooperative and testifying. You’d have the victim testify that she collected the specimen and gave it to Det. Benson. And then Benson would testify that she gave it to the crime lab, and the usual chain-of-custody procedures kicked in. Basically, you just need to prove that the specimen the crime lab tested was the specimen taken from the victim.

  3. Kurt says

    My biggest problem was how Stabler and Benson reacted when the FBI agent shot at a suspect who was clearly surrendering, whose “weapon” was on the ground. They essentially wrote it off as being unprofessional and bad form. Looked pretty clearly like attempted murder to me. Are New York’s finest really going to let that just slide?

    • Allison Leotta says

      Agreed. Maybe all of that FBI agent’s subsequent troubles — losing her job, getting sued for every penny she owns, going to jail — took place off-screen. But SVU does seem to have a convention of allowing rape victims to commit all kinds of crimes themselves.


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